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ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts #2

English and Reading Assessments

ELA and Reading Assessments

You know how it is with movie sequels; the sequel rarely lives up to the promise of the original movie. However, there are exceptions and you’re reading one ūüôā

In my¬†Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments¬†series, I began with a¬†trailer¬†to introduce the articles, in which I argued, “Do use comprehensive assessments, not random samples.”¬†I followed with the first episode, in which I elaborate on the following:¬†“DON’T assess to assess. Assessment is not the end goal.¬†DO use diagnostic assessments.¬†DON’T assess what you won’t teach.”¬†Both the trailer and first episode provide some of my¬†15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. Take a look at these later, but you’ve got to read this article first and grab the FREE download.

As an ELA teacher and reading specialist, I believe in the power of ELA and reading assessments. However, as with many educational practices, appropriate use is often coupled with misuse (or even abuse); hence, the Do’s and Don’ts of ELA and Reading Assessments.

DO analyze data with others (drop your defenses).

We teachers love our independence, but it sometimes comes with a cost to our students.

My eighth-grade ELA colleague in the classroom next door has the reputation of being a fine teacher. She serves as our department chair and we’ve taught together for a dozen years. I can tell you all about her two kids and husband. Of course, I spell her once in a while for a bathroom break, but I’ve never seen her teach; nor has she seen me teach. I’ve found this scenario to be quite typical. Our classrooms are our castles. We let down the drawbridges a few times a year for administrative walk-throughs or evaluations, but rarely more than that.

Our department meetings are all business: budget, supply status, pleas to keep the workroom clean, schedules, and novel rotations. We also meet twice-per-month for grade-level team meanings. Again, more business with some curricular planning and the usual complaint-sharing about students, parents, the district, and administrators. Administrators want us to have common assessments, mainly to ensure consistent instruction. We do, but get around that requirement by adding on our own assessments and make these the ones that matter. We never analyze student data, except the Common Core annual assessment (and that data is aggregated by grade-level subject, not by individual teacher). Of course, that data is out-of-date (months ago) and so general as to be of minimal use.

At the beginning of the school year I sing the same old song: “Can’t we set aside time at each meeting to look at each others’ student work and learn from each other?” I mean assignments, essays, and unit tests… the stuff that we are now teaching. Everyone agrees we should, but we never have enough time. Why not?

We’re afraid.

What if she finds out that I’m just a mediocre teacher? What if he finds out that I have no clue about how to teach grammar? What if they discover that I really don’t differentiate instruction, though I have a reputation for doing so? Would I be able to or willing to change how I teach? My colleagues aren’t my bosses.

It’s time we take some risks and let the assessment data do the talking.¬†None of us is as good or bad as we think. Everyone has something to contribute and something to learn. We need different perspectives on analyzing data; looking solely at your own data without comparison to others’ data may lead to inaccurate judgments and faulty instruction.

Let’s drop our defenses and let our colleagues into our professional lives.¬†Data analysis as a community of professional educators can produce satisfying results and helps us grow as professionals.

DON’T assess what you can’t teach.

When teachers sit down and brainstorm what baseline assessments to give at the start of the school year, someone invariably suggests a reading comprehension test and a writing sample. I chime in with a mechanics test. Here’s why my suggestion makes sense and my colleague’s does not.

A mechanics test is teachable: 9 comma rules, 7 capitalization rules, and 16 italics, underlining, quotation marks, etc. rules. A reading comprehension test and a writing sample are not. Check out my article, Don’t Teach Reading Comprehension when you have time. Suffice it to say that the latter two tests will not yield the same kind of specific data as, say, that mechanics test. Want to download that mechanics test and progress monitoring matrix? The FREE download is at the end of the article; you can teach to this assessment.

Bottom line? You don’t have time to assess for the sake of assessing. Refuse to assess what will not yield teachable data.

DO steal from others.

Teacher constructed assessments provide the best tools. Work with colleagues to create diagnostic and formative assessments to measure student achievement and quick follow-up assessments designed to re-assess, once you re-teach what individual students did not master the first time.

Steal exercises, activities, and worksheets from colleagues that will re-teach. No better compliment can be paid to a fellow teacher than “Would you mind making me a copy of that?”

DON’T assess what you must confess (data is dangerous).

I would add an important cautionary note to sharing assessment data. First, students do have a right to privacy. Be careful to keep data analysis in-house. On my recording matrices I suggest using student identification numbers when posting results in the classroom. Second, ill-informed parents and administrators will sometimes misuse data to make judgments about the teacher rather than the student. Lack of mastered concepts and skills could be used to accuse previous or present teachers of educational malpractice. Some administrators will cite quantitative data on evaluations to comment on lack of progress.

Teachers should be judicious and careful in publicizing data. Most parents and administrators will welcome the information, understand it in its proper context, and recognize the level of your professionalism. Set some department or team-level guidelines for data sharing and test the waters before sharing everything.

To clarify, it’s not the data that is dangerous; it’s the misuse that needs to be avoided.

That’s it for now. Some of you will jump up into the aisle to head to the lobby upon seeing “The End.” Others will relax and let the theater clear out before walking out. Make sure to purchase your ticket for the next installment of¬†ELA and Reading Assessments Do’s and Don’ts: Episode 2 and get more 15 FREE ELA and reading assessments, corresponding recording matrices, administrative audio files, and ready-to-teach lessons. A 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes! Here’s the preview:¬†DO analyze both data deficits and mastery. DON’T assess what you haven’t taught. DO use instructional resources with embedded assessments. DON’T use instructional resources which don’t teach to data.

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I’m Mark Pennington, ELA teacher and reading specialist. Check out my assessment-based ELA and reading intervention resources at Pennington Publishing.

Get the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment with Recording Matrix FREE Resource:

Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,